Inspect Your Chimney, Firebox, Flues, Wood Stoves, Caps

Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA

Well, it's that time a year again when house fires are more common, and people wait until last minute to order firewood and have their chimneys cleaned. People also grab whatever supplemental heat devices they have handy, and most likely havn't been used since last winter. Those include electric space heaters, kerosene heaters, oil filled heaters, etc.

 It's not too late to have your chimney checked. ( depending on where you live).

 Many minor defects in a chimney or firebox can lead to major problems if ignored.

Starting at the top, check flue liners for cracks, nests, cresote build up, offsets, shifted flues. Then check the mortar cap around the flues for cracks that can allow water to drip through. Check the brick or stone above the roof line for cracks. A lightning strike might have gone unnoticed, caused a crack, and that can also allow water in. Next, check the flashing. If the sealer against the brick has gotten old or hard, it can lose it's bond and allow water to run down inside. You might want to look in your attic for signs of water leaks around your chimney.

 Usually, the rest of your chimney is inside of framing and sheetrock and is not visible. So go to your firebox. Have a flashlight when you do this. Open your damper. Shine the light up and see if you see creosote buildup, sign of bird or squirrel nests, cracks, etc. Open and close damper to make sure it's working properly. Then check outside air vent if your fireplace has one. Then check for cracks where the firebrick meet the stone or brick profile on both sides, and also look at the area above the firebox opening. That is where many masons forget to parge, and smoke can be drawn up through any cracks you see there. If you see any openings, they need to be parged. Type S mortar, refractory mortar, or furnace cement can be used there. Actually, basic Type N mortar is better than nothing.  A 1 gallon can filled with mortar should be more than enough to parge and seal this area.

 If you have a basement, many times there is a clean out door installed there. Open it and check to see how much ash is in there. If the firebox above has an ash dump, many people will sweep ashes in and let them fall into basement. After a while, if those ashes get damp, you will begin to smell them.

 If you have a woodstove in the basement, the metal flue pipe is usually connected to a masonry thimble, or round flue. Check the condition of pipe, the connections, creosote leaking from connections, etc. You should really pull the metal flue pipe out of the round flue, then check for ash buildup inside. Also, check the round flu for cracks.


 If you don't want to do this yourself, call your local chimney sweep, or a local bricklayer that has experience building fireplaces and knows what to look for.

brick chimneychimney flue

Typical brick chimney and looking down a flue from the top.


Jeff Pearl | Lic in VA

Remax Distinctive | McLean VA


Homes | Land | Farms | Historic

Equal Housing



Comments (26)

Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Get the guys with the camera!  But, (warning) be sure the photos, and/or video, are actually the chimney in question!

Great discussion Jeff.  Good info!

Dec 10, 2014 11:01 PM
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

There is nothing more inviting or soothing in cold or wet weather that a nice fire to look upon and be warmed as it crackles away...Yes to maintenance to do it

Dec 10, 2014 11:26 PM
Mike Belobradic
Johnston & Daniel Oakville - Oakville, ON
Your Trusted Advisor in Oakville Real Estate

Important reminder at this time of year in particular. WETT inspections are probably not done enough locally. Having lived in several rural homes where wood stoves are a primary source of heating, it is something I don't forget about for homes with chimneys.

Dec 11, 2014 12:04 AM
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty

This is the perfect time of year to put out this post for homeowners! Great information!

Dec 11, 2014 12:17 AM
Jeff Pearl
RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA - Lovettsville, VA
Full Service Full Time Realtor

#7, Hi Jay, Yes cameras can be useful in many situations. I usually like to see stuff with my own eyes when possible.

#8- Hi Richie, Yes, they are nice, and that radiant soft heat feels good, but maintenance and safety are a must do.

#9- Hi Mike, Yes, we'll still have some warm days around here, so hopefully people will take advantage of the warm days and get this done.

#10- Hi Nicole, yes it is! Hope people actually do it.

Dec 11, 2014 12:27 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

I like the advice by Lenn Harley.

Have a professional do the checking. 

Dec 11, 2014 12:29 AM
Jeff Pearl
RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA - Lovettsville, VA
Full Service Full Time Realtor

#12- Hi Roy, yes, using professionals is always a good idea. Thanks.

Dec 11, 2014 01:52 AM
Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED
RETIRED / State License is Inactive - Portland, OR

Yes, now is the time . . . how else will Santa slide down and give me all my presents if the flue is blocked!!  HO HO HO

Dec 11, 2014 03:52 AM
Scott Gleason, CRS
Coldwell Banker Realty - Westfield, NJ
Westfield NJ New Homes Specialist

Great reminder, Jeff.  As the weather gets colder, more fireplaces are burning.  People need to be reminded of how to keep their fireplace working at its optimum to prevent fires.

Dec 11, 2014 04:45 AM
Richard Robibero, e-Pro, ABR, SRS
Panorama R.E. Limited - Toronto, ON
Selling Your Home as if it were My Own!

Very informative post Jeff Pearl ... but this is one of those areas where I call in the experts.

Dec 11, 2014 05:01 AM
Kevin Mackessy
Blue Olive Properties, LLC - Highlands Ranch, CO
Dedicated. Qualified. Local.

Always good to check these things right when it starts getting cold.  That way you can clean and service them before you need them after the temperature drops to below freezing. 

Dec 11, 2014 05:19 AM
Jeff Pearl
RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA - Lovettsville, VA
Full Service Full Time Realtor

#14- Hi Carla, Exactly!

#15- Hi scott, yes, people get busy this time of year and seem to put this off. Thanks.

#16- Hi Richard, Experts are always a good choice!

#17- Hi Kevin, Yes, and the sooner the better in case you need any repairs done.


Dec 11, 2014 06:38 AM
Mary Stewart
HomeTrust Real Estate, LLC, Homes for Everyone - Wilsonville, OR
Wilsonville and Surrounding Portland Metro Areas

We just moved into a home that was built in 1980.  The fireplace is in the living room and the firebox seems fairly large.  The fireplace has never been used in all these years.  We are thinking a chimney person should come out and take a look to make sure the bricks are all right.  Also there is some motar on the edgeof the flue and the flue was propped open a little.  What do you think?  The bricks are the redbricks.

Dec 11, 2014 08:02 AM
Jeff Pearl
RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA - Lovettsville, VA
Full Service Full Time Realtor

#19- Hi Mary, If it hasn't been used, I would still have it checked before using it. A little mortar on flue shouldn't hurt anything. Normally, if a bricklayer props a flue up he would fill the joint between flue liners. Sometimes it's sealed on the outside. A chimney sweep with a camera might be able to tell. just check all the areas I mentioned in post. Also, open damper and reach in behind it. That is where smoke shelf is. Could be hay, sticks, etc from animals or birds building nests in there if it hasn't been used for a long time.

Dec 11, 2014 09:12 AM
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

Thanks for the safety reminder - it is important to make sure our fireplaces are safe.

Dec 11, 2014 12:11 PM
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Jeff Pearl this is the season - and this is the time when we need these reminders. Thanks for sharing as I have also bookmarked to share it with some of my clients.

Dec 11, 2014 12:40 PM
Sybil Campbell
Fernandina Beach, FL
Referral Agent Amelia Island Florida

Hi Jeff, thanks for sharing that very important information.  Fireplaces and flues can be dangerous.

Dec 11, 2014 01:42 PM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

I have clients who are into this type of upkeep, so thanks for this post!

Dec 11, 2014 02:33 PM
Rod Pierson
Wilson Realty Inc - Redding, CA
Northern California - An Agent you can trust

Prevention is the best medicine. Technology is so far superior today. I always recommend a full inspection of a wood burning fireplace.

My request for repairs because of my suggestion for my clients to pay for a chimney inspection paid out getting a brand new wood insert along with new piping.

Never under inspect. Cheap insurance and great for negotiations.

Great Post. I will follow you!

Dec 11, 2014 04:29 PM
Jeff Pearl
RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA - Lovettsville, VA
Full Service Full Time Realtor

#21- Hi Jane, Thanks. Basic cleaning and monitoring is usually all that is needed.

#22- Hi Praful, Thanks for sharing.

#23- Hi Sybil, Thanks. Yes, they can become dangerous if ignored.

#24- Hi Laura, That's good! Neglected maintenance can cause many problems in a house.

#25- Hi Rod, Yes it is! It really doesn't take that long or cost very much to do a full inspection. peace of mind is worth it. Thanks.

Dec 11, 2014 07:48 PM